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My Journey to Tarawera: The Wild Mud Chase


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Tarawera was never in my radar early last year.  My default plan for a destination race was a full road marathon with Berlin and Chicago in the running.  But then, my brother who’s an active road biker in New Zealand phoned me about Tarawera and that some of his buddies were joining and in the less than an hour, I made the decision to take on it.  So am I gonna do a 60K or an 85K?  A little research and some advice from Jael (with a lot of guidance from Filipino Tarawera finishers) and my 85K registration was finalized.

After finishing some road business (the Milo Marathon & Milo Lucena 21K), I plunged into trail training with DBB’s Mt. Batolusong 50K and CM50 as the highlights.  A few cramming time on the trails, mostly with Team Marupok on the hills of Montalban and by February 6, I found myself at the starting line of the Tarawera Ultra Race, albeit 5 pounds heavier.

The last statement demands some clarification.  I started my vacation a month before the race but I’ve mapped out a detailed training schedule to make sure I won’t go off the fitness level grid.  Unfortunately, after coming from a busy, stressed out environment (I was rushing patient cases days before my departure), all I wanted to do was relax and reconnect with my brother’s family.  After all, I was on vacation mode, right?  Add up my poor sleeping habits and the irresistibly luscious dishes my sister-in-law kept feeding us and you have one out-of-shape, unrecognizable me.

Fortunately, I registered for the SMC 10K run in Sydney (52:26) and the Hutt River Trail Marathon in Wellington (4:36) to ensure myself of some mileage.  In between, I squeezed in more kilometers while touring & walking Sydney’s labyrinth of streets and back alleys plus more jogs and runs along Bondi and Blue Mountain.  Wellington was more tricky with its numerous hills and windy environment but the minimal slow runs I did was augmented by indoor workouts.20160205_135942

We arrived at Rotorua a day before the Tarawera race in time for the race kit claiming, briefing and sports expo where I also reconnected with Filipino runners Arlene, Kirk & Kian.  Four more New Zealand-based Pinoy runners were also there to bring Team Pilipinas to a total of 8.  Tarawera is the second race in 2016 of the Ultra-Trail World Tour calendar and the presence of some elite runners made for an intimidating situation for undertrained and unfit me.  Those thoughts kept me awake that night with only a maximum sleep of 3 hours and soon, it was time to prepare and head off to the start.

 

And we are off.  The Tarawera race started quite late at 6 am with runners from the three categories bunched together.  It was a dark and rainy slow start as all 1,300 runners negotiated the crowded trail inside a pine forest for the first 4 kilometers.  I dove into an ocean of bobbing headlamps, trying to pass runners who have been overwhelmed by the numerous hills and slippery terrain.  The light rain on my face and the slowly revealing silhouettes of giant trees and ferns all around made for a fairy tale setting.  Still infused with enthusiasm, I attacked the race with gusto with enough walks on the uphills.

Leading to the first aid station, the terrain started to descend and kept on it as we circled the edge of Lake Tikitapu.  It was my golden hour as I glided down with ease among zigzagging paths laden with soft mud of ideal consistency – soft enough to absorb the pressure but not too sticky to accumulate and cause sliding.  Or maybe, the leg muscles were still strong to help me counter any forces which can lead to a nasty fall.  16.4 kilometers later, we were sprinting towards the beach side of the lake as hordes of well-wishers and volunteers welcomed and cheered for us at our Blue Lake station.24901093855_ea1b8b72a1_z

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The next aid station was only at KM22.8 and relatively flat but it was the next aid station (Okataina Lodge) at KM39.4 which took light years to reach.  The third leg of this race at 16.6 kilometers is without a doubt the longest and has the two steepest climbs before descending into some mean technical downhills.  Even if I was a bit spent, I just had to suck in the endless climbs and muddy landscape lest I fail to make the 1:50 pm cut off.  The women and senior runners I overtook earlier started gaining on me but I just stayed in my glacial pace until the ground started to tilt down and I was soaring.

Weather predictions expected the rain to cease before noon but by 12:30 pm when I left Aid Station 3, the light shower kept pummelling the trail and would continue up to the early evening.  The next leg offered a rolling slope with intermittent views of the lovely Lake Okataina.  The route slithers around the still water of Okataina and a steady pace can be had while keeping an eye on the deep yawning gorge below.TUM_2016_001089

By KM 49.2, I was welcomed by a groovy bevy of hippies and hefty slices of pizza at AS 4 (Humphries Bay) so even if I was drenched to the bone, I was on a high.  The Tarawera Aid Stations even if at times are too far in between are a welcome oasis of fruit slices, yummy sandwiches, hot soups and energy gels & power drinks.  And they are manned by some of the most enthusiastic volunteers in the planet while garbed in various outlandish motiffs – Santa Claus town, Star Wars space station, etc.

The fifth leg was a good 8.1 kilometers but with the expansive and mysterious Lake Tarawera (our third and last lake) on my right, it was a pleasurable jaunt.  Many a time, I would try to hook up with a train of runners running moderately but consistently while sharing war stories.  It was a worthy distraction from the cold and fatigue plus it burned the miles, unnoticeably.  We were at the tail end of the race and many of the men were already planning to quit or downgrade to a shorter distance.  It was the women who were more enthusiastic and kept me going.TUM_2016_005103

The last 4 kilometers leading to the 60KM finish line was a series of winding paths eventually tracing the course of the Tarawera River.  With the rushing waters in the background, I linked with Mac who related to me the running scene in New Zealand.  He is witness at how Kiwis of whatever gender, age or size prepare and train systematically and regularly months before their races.  I told him how many times I saw Wellingtonians run, walk or bike to and from work with their backpacks on. It’s no wonder that many of us were left biting their dust come race day.TaraweraFallsLg

The rains never ceased so the swollen river led us to 2 raging cascades before the behemoth multi-layered, grandiose Tarawera Falls.  I was in awe of its gushing waters in full display but we had the final cut-off to catch.  85KM runners should leave the 60KM mark on or before 5:50 pm.  We arrived at 5:20 pm but we had to leave soon so there was little room to change to a new base layer and grab some snack.  Along the way, I grabbed Mac and Kirk (who had arrived earlier and was having issues of making the 6:20 pm cut-off at KM 72, for 100KM runners) to join me on our 85-KM quest.

With no cut-offs to chase, we settled to a more relaxed slow pace even if a pang of guilt for not pushing myself hovered like some dark cloud.  The rain and the impending cold was simply zapping what’s left of my enthusiasm.  The final 25 kilometers was supposed to be the most runnable portion of the course but there I was making small talk with two guys and we have settled to just finish the race. So walk we did along a wide corridor flanked by tall pines on both sides, as dusk settled in.  Fortunately, Mac’s pace was rather brisk that Kirk and I had to catch up with him every now and then.  The path was now grassy and a welcome relief from the previous muddy and rolling terrain, pre-60K.24272726244_d5bfad522a_k

At the Titoki station, we stayed longer to ward off the cold (with piping hot soup!) and take to the portalets which were remarkably well-stocked and most welcome at this part of the race instead of digging some hole in the dark forest.  We left the station with the dark slowly bleeding across the land.  The rain had ceased and it was a bit foggy as we settled into a walk and jog routine.  Soon, we were traversing an isolated road as we swapped more stories and experiences.  The final kilometres was a trot in the dark highlighted by a purple-lit cage bridge, a ‘floating’ aid station manned by multiple Princess Leias and two steep sandy uphills.

Finally, traces of civilization appeared into view – street lights, houses, distant sounds.  But it would take us almost an hour before the finish line beckoned.  We came charging in as one flank with me holding the dinky Philippine flag over my headlamp.  Among the 85K finishers, we were at the tail end but the cheering crowd and supporters were as animated and enthusiastic as they were in the morning, as Race Organiser Paul Charteris gave us a warm hug.  Many of the 100K finishers, by this time were finishing in small groups, as midnight slowly crept in.  Less than an hour later, our lone Filipina runner, Arlene Agulto, finished her 100K adventure while Kian finished his hours earlier.

And so culminates our journey which circled three lakes, explored forest reserves, entered enchanted territories we only used to dream of.  This was New Zealand in its untamed, harsh and natural state we had experienced and immersed in that day.  And for many of us who have found bliss and fairyland, this seems just the beginning of something big, incredible and exciting.  See you soon Kiwiland!

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Photography by Marceau Photography, Joseph Iric Mina & Tarawera Ultramarathon


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NZ Outdoor Adventures


fun fun under the sun...

It would be an injustice not to feature these activities in one blog entry.  So here it goes…

  1. The Rimutaka Railroad Trail Walk & Fun Run.  My one and only official fun run (more of walk) with my brother Eric & friend Andrew.  For 3 hours or so, we trekked, walked and ran through pine forests, preserved mountains with old growth native trees, 4 old railroad tunnels, valleys, bridges and meadows.  It was supposed to be just 17.5 km while my Garmin registered 25.8 km but how did those runners who ran 2 hours later than us caught up with us in the finish line after barely an hour?

    the long descent...

    with Andrew among yellows and greens

     

    somewhere over the...

    with Eric at the starting line…
  2. Crabbing/Clamming at Kapiti Coast.  For an hour or so, we traveled North along a highway outlined by the endless green mountains on the right and the rugged sea coast on the left.  We land on a clean gray beach that stretches for miles.  The water was freezing cold but soon enough, my brother and nephew Pat were setting up the improvised nets while my niece Ayesha was gently swimming in the shallows.  Trembling, I reluctantly joined in and soon enough, I was gathering clams (which can move fast underwater) using feet/toes power.  Later on, we bring up the nets to gather the day’s crab catch into our waiting container.  It was not the most pleasant experience I’ve had (I really have a hard time adjusting to the cold) but most rewarding especially after we munched on those meaty clawdaddies for dinner – yum, yum!

    the road to Kapiti: one breathtaking view after another

    gotcha!

    smile though your body's freezing...brrr

    unspoilt beauty...

  3. Mt. Victoria outlook area and the Botanical gardens.  Great views of the city from many angles.  Blooms, native plants, ferns and trees everywhere.  It was like being in the heavens.

    with fave niece Yesha...

    mr. bee, mister, mister bee...

    native landscape at the Botanical Gardens

    one of the many ponds...

    another view from the top...

    funnel art on top of the hill...

  4. The Wellington Skyline walk.  For more than 3 hours, Eric, Pat & I climbed and descended through kilometers of trails and walkways under the mid-afternoon sun.  Along the way, we encountered giant windmills, age old trees, rare plants and nervous flocks of sheep while being afforded breathless views of Wellington and Oriental bay.  Most of the time, we traversed through trails outlining the peaks of mountains and hills.

    at the starting point...

    black angus cows...

    the windmills of my mind...

    up, up & away...

    whew...we made it!!!

  5. Miramar coastline.  It’s the other end of Wellington where weta studios are located but the surrounding coast is something else.  Whether it’s rugged rock formations, quaint lagoons or spotless sandy beaches, the place never fails to elicit awe.

    Wellington from the other side...

    shellfishes by the beach...

    beaching around with Ayesha...

    rugged beauty...

  6. Castle Point.  I saved the best for last, but opkors!  We traveled for 3 hours to one of the best beaches in the world (still, from my point of view).  A lagoon ringed by hills and mountains which one can trek and photograph from many picturesque angles.  While the water was a tad cold, the infinite gray plain of sands, the landmark lighthouse and the jagged beauty of the gigantic boulders (facing the untamed Pacific Ocean) made this a fitting climax of a vacation that never failed to impress and surprise.  A long gash on my legs was one souvenir I brought with me when we tried to face the strong currents while ‘securely’ positioned on the craggy coast.  Ouch!

    our expedition team

    the boys of (windy) summer

    the trail to the lighthouse...

    one interesting angle...

    fishing by the rough Pacifics (the guys caught an eel)

    postcard perfect

    champagne by the beach!

    Joshua auditioning for "The Lion King"

    wish you were here...


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NZ on my mind…


near the Te Papa museum...

eric, josh, yesh, pat before the fireworks (still waiting for Pangs)

It’s taking me forever to write my final entry on New Zealand.  I had to flush it out of my system so I could write in a better light sans emotional bawling (I still miss my niece and nephews) or drunken patronage.  Now that I’ve overcome my kiwi hangover, I can look at it more objectively – why I’ll forever be drawn and connected in a city of less than a million.

fireworks upon the week of my arrival...now who wouldn't be enamored?

  1. Family – Eric, Marican with their children Pat, Josh & Ayesha started and grew into a family just a few meters from us, later a few streets away.  We’ve only been separated for only 2.5 years so the reconnection was instant and deep.  All the walks, runs, tours, drives I had with my brother or with the whole family leave a gash of longing whenever I look back.  All the food they’ve lovingly prepared for me, the house cleaning, painting and gardening we did for a month only strengthened the bonds that’s already been there.  I’d like to think that I will forever have a second home in New Zealand at Newlands whenever I visit the Minas.

    the christmas project...just in time

    the Minas

    the living room makeover with the new carpeting (being tried out by Ayesha)...

  2. Fresh, fresh, fresh (and clean) – why Made in New Zealand (along with the ubiquitous silver fern silhouette) are proudly emblazoned on almost all of their products is  probably because food, whether milk, meat, shellfish, etc. gets into every kiwi dining table in a day or two.  That’s fresh, clean and of the highest quality and of course, at a cheaper price.  No wonder grasses on meadows are grown and farmed before letting the sheeps and cows devour them.
  3. Kiwi fruits – freshly picked along with a kaleidoscope of berries – rasp, boysen, black, blue – dunked into fresh yoghurt.  Heavenly & healthy.   And again, cheap.
  4. Kiwi bird – along with the pokeko, and other flightless birds, rare marsupials & mammals and insects (including the now familiar weta).  They show you a country of unique wildlife and environment.  And you have a people taking pains to preserve them.

    ancient native plants at the weta cave...

  5. Kiwi people – yes, New Zealanders are called such.  And they are the most non-confrontational and happiest people I’ve ever met (though I’m not the jetsetting kind so I don’t know if this observation would even qualify).  They are also more racially tolerant, having acknowledged and given due respect to their original occupants, the Maoris.  I haven’t been most comfortable using my native tongue than in there.  None of those snooty or malicious looks.   Perhaps, it’s their relaxed lifestyle and optimism that make them a cut above other races.  Who wouldn’t be if you leave your home at 7:30 am and be back before 5:30 am?  At least, in the case of my brother.

    one happy family

    the santa parade along Lambton Quay

  6. Green, green, green.  Since Wellington is like a small community in a first world setting, it has some of the highest grade in environmental management.  Blessed with clean winds and clear bay waters, the city is bent on maintaining their environment in the crush of impending progress.  It starts in every home where rubbish management is followed and dual-flush lavatories and electric outlets with individual switches are law.
  7. Recycling.  Whether its rubbish, old appliances, art Deco buildings, vinyl records, books, this society hardly throws things that easily.  Is the predominance of 5 to 10-year old cars still plying their finely asphalted roads enough proof?

    old rail station platforms find new life as public seating areas...

    my fave running path...

  8. Walkers’ (and runners’ & bikers’) paradise.  Kiwis are some of the most sun-loving and outdoorsy people I know so they maintain their surroundings clean and green.  Trails, paths, alleyways cross and traverse mountains and hills all over the city.  They are clean, well-lit and safe.  Parks and gardens are also everywhere so one never feels far from nature.   I also noticed how kids are left to enjoy the outdoors as they would want to be – amongst the dirt, mud and sand.  Final picture:  Kiwis walking on city sidewalks barefoot (that’s how in touch they are, literally to mother earth)

    the way kids should have fun...

    Yesh & Nina getting down & dirty at Castle Point

  9. The Oriental Parade.  My favorite jogging path, outlining the edge of the city from Oriental Bay.  One runs along pine-lined docks, asphalt lanes and sandy beaches.  Along the way, you encounter rugged rock formations, giant public art monuments, art deco dock stations or if you want to rest, benches are all over to sit on and take in the breathtaking view of the bay and the mountains of Miramar across (very Tolkienish?  Well, this was where most of the production of the Lord of the Rings series took place).

    Oriental Bay: a view from the top

  10. Cuba, Lambton Bay – galleries, restaurants (from the exotic to the refined), specialty stores, quirky shops, bookstores, thrift & second hand shops – mostly located in centuries old buildings and structures.

    the old in the new

    the city from Victoria University...

  11. Art everywhere – whether is Maori or modern, it’s embedded in everyday Kiwi life.  Plus in numerous museums, public art, plazas and park.  And it’s never gaudy or extravagant, just enough to earn awe and wonderment.

    eye-popping art, literally

    restos & cafes abound...

    The Parliament house a.k.a. the beehive bldg...

    a quaint bookstore along Lambton Quay

    modern take on the classics

    maori art in every manhole cover

  12. Terrace, quay,  plaza, alley, bay and other various terms for STREET.  Very British

one reason to keep coming back...

The 27 days I’ve spent there is not enough…it would never be enough especially with a place as such….


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D’ NZ Jaunt


Te Papa Wellington City City Centre

It’s been almost 2 weeks since I landed in windy Wellington so I’m still trying to process and take in all the sights and sensations I’ve experienced in this surprisingly fascinating place.  What I expected to be a fast-paced cosmopolitan lifestyle turned out to be a very relaxed and ‘really take our sweet time’ moments to re-bond with my brother and his family.

Santa Parade along Lambton Quay

The 2 nephews we practically saw grow up before they moved and lived here 3 years ago while the niece shoot up overnight within that period, easily adapting to the new environs, taking in a new Kiwi accent while still shifting easily to the native tongue when needed.

A view to a thrill: Sunset by my brother's house with Ayesha

While I’ve sworn to continue with my running here (3x on weekdays and a long run on Sundays), the sloping terrains had been a major obstacle.

long & winding: my run route when the sun would come out...

Add to that the cold morning weathers coupled with gusty breeze and one would rather opt to stay home and enjoy the ‘bed weather’.  After a few attempts, I was finally able to take off – having adjusted to the cool climate and winds and electing to wear ‘flexible’ running outfits.  Yep, running can get tricky here when inside, you’re sweating and heating up while the outer shell is constantly battered by cold winds.  So while I’m wearing my long-sleeved running shirt, a sweater is wrapped around my waist – ready for use once the temperature drops and the cool sea breeze suddenly swoops from nowhere.

out and about along the state highway (when the running becomes boooring..)

Wellington is a haven for runners, walkers and all forms of nature lovers – trails, sidewalks, bike lanes are everywhere.  The routes are clean, well-lit and safe and the views – oh the views.  Endless green mountains, hills and hillocks everywhere you look.  Even in a middle class community of my brother, decades old trees abound.  While houses are precariously perched on rolling terrains, most of the original pine forests are left intact on the surrounding peaks.

Fanghorn forest?

Less than 30 minutes away is the city center where shops, galleries, museums and restaurants abound.  One would never run out of options whether combing the retro shops, eating a Turkish falafel, strolling the many open public spaces or enjoying the views of the seaside Queen’s wharf.  As described by Lonely Planet (which recently chose Wellington among the top 10 destinations for 2011), the place is compact but brimming with art, merchandise and everything a traveler would love to sink his teeth on.

Sails of Glory: Queen's Wharf

the old and the modern...

I’ve spent many days around Lambton Quay and Cuba St. combing stores and shops for books, magazines, CDs, furnitures, artworks, prints, running shoes & socks and a lot more for some retail therapy.

in the middle of the road...

Other days are spent just getting lost in the many alleys and streets.   Many of the old buildings have been properly restored and are being utilized commercially while standing side by side with 21st century metal & glass structures.  It’s in these areas where Wellington really shines – a modern city with an old world charm.  Do enjoy the images, mate…

New Zealand is not a small country but a large community – Peter Jackson


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The Oriental Bay Run


The Oriental Bay run

a view to a run........

Yesterday, the weather was near perfect (more sun, less winds by the afternoon).  So after a morning of scouring the shops of Lambton Quay and Cuba Sts., I decided to do my first city run in Wellington.  The outfit started with double-lined jogging pants over running shorts, sweat coats over the running jersey, peeling away little by little once the heat started to be a bother.

stripped down but not quite...

I started near the port area passing through the City Center and circling the Oriental Bay along the Oriental Parade.  Maybe it was the shoes (I used a flat trainer), or the winds and the cold.  But it was not a really enjoyable run.  I thought I’ve finally adjusted to running conditions here in New Zealand – sunny but windy and cold.  The terrains are mildly ascending and varies from smooth asphalt to loose pebbles to pine planks on the pier area.

the waters are cold but why were kids jumping off and doing somersaults from the pier?

the dude just outrun me....grrrrr.

lovely day, lovely day....

Once the heat kicked in and I’ve stripped to my basic running gears, I started to rev up, averaging 7 minutes per kilometer.  I even tried racing with the other Kiwi runners who as expected just left me eating their dust.  Really amazed with the leisure (!) runners here (though my mind would like to think they’re all professionals).   They can really give any visitor runner a run for their money.  Maybe, it’s the early athletic conditioning or the challenging terrain or the more scientific approach.  No matter, running in New Zealand will definitely make one stronger and faster.

Installation artworks everywhere for the weary runner...

if this were in Manila, _____________ (complete the sentence)...

Now, I’m really thinking of moving over here.  What with its clean and healthy environment, breathtaking views, oh-so-friendly, cool and polite people (runners and bikers have little to worry of being sideswiped), numerous safe and proper running lanes/trails and a very relaxed and less stressful lifestyle.

Marist School in New Zealand!

8 kms upon reaching St. Patrick’s School (Marist school), I see the giant speedometer needle.

one giant wind velocity measuring device at windy Wellington...

I cool down a little before going to the Aquatic Center where I finally got to swim (1 km) in a community heated (!) pool.  It’s been years since I last dip my toes in a lap pool so you could just imagine the struggle I had in the water but that’s another story…

this little guy was waiting for me at the finish line...with a haughty smirk.